Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Hi-Life Hamburgers

There seem to be two distinct camps when it comes to iconic South Pas eatery Hi-Life Hamburgers: those who say something like, "Is that the place on Fair Oaks near the middle school? What's the big deal? It's a burger joint like any other, right?" And those who equate Hi-Life with every happy memory from childhood wrapped around the very heart of the small town American dream and worthy of placement on the historic register. Even those who don't rave about Hi-Life food will raise hackles at the idea of not having it as a dining option. For locals, Hi-Life is a vital part of the Southern California -- kinda like the Lakers, the Hollywood sign and the Santa Monica pier. (Only better.)

It certainly is a slice out of the past. The red and white tile inside is part fifties diner/part psychedelic carnival. It's real-deal retro, not orchestrated. Where else can you get Orange Bang and Cherry Fanta? You can ask for "A suicide" and receive a wicked combination of every soft drink, swirling in icy goodness, enough to please your inner 8th grader. Oh, and you'll see plenty of actual 8th graders in the afternoon-- the Middle School is nearby. Later, you might find some glassy-eyed teens saying something along the lines of, "Hi-life... get it, dude?" like characters out of a Kevin Smith movie.

The burgers are delish -- huge, savory, drippy -- and the breakfasts are like the ones you remember from Grandma's house -- lots of crispy bacon and butter. The fries are truly outstanding -- that perfect blend of crunch on the outside, steam on the inside. (A small is more than enough to share.) And if you talk to any Hi-Life fan about there being better chili cheese fries anywhere on planet earth, be prepared for a fight. Heck, the place even got a shout-out in a rap song. (Eat Street, by People Under the Stairs.)

Oh, there are those who don't get it. Bottom line: if when you think of cheeseburgers you think of medium rare ostrich with gorgonzola cheese and a side of chipotle-infused sweet potato fries ... that sounds great. Just don't go to Hi-Life. But if you want a piece of locally-owned greasy goodness in a setting that would give Quentin Tarantino inspiration to write another screenplay, go to Hi-Life. (Bring cash -- no credit cards accepted.)


Cafe Observer said...

Thanks 4 thinking of me, LA!!
Sweet Potato Fries w/ Sweet Potato Pies, with Sweet Potato Chips, and Sweet Potato's!
But, de Tacos are my favs whenever I cross over the border.
Man, I could eat rite now but I should instead sleep.

We were at Pie n Burger Sunday...disappointing. Both in agreement: what we ordered was avg quality at best in combo with inflated prices.

Virginia said...

Well I am packing my bags. Will be there by midnight. Pick me up at the airport. Call in my cheeseburger and fry order!

Trish said...


at this early hour, you've got me Jonesing for Hi-Life! And not even the breakfast foods!

From the time I attended Jr Hi in SoPas when it was a walkup stand in a crappy parking lot, to just a few weeks ago when I made it my first stop, Hi-Life (or Low-Life, as locals have sometimes tagged it) was THE stopping place, given a chance. Sometimes it was just a soda with "rabbit pellet" ice. But it was seriously the best place in town. Back when the choices for fast food were Mickey D's and Taco Bravo, this was known, pretty much county wide, as the place to stop if you're going to eat in SoPas. A friend I went to college with, who grew up in Arcadia knew that if they were tired of In n Out, they headed to Hi-Life.

The fries and onion rings are better than Pie & Burger, better than Tops.

It isn't nouvelle cuisine, it is hard core Americana burgers. It isn't even as hi-tech as Guy Fieri's stuff---it's just burgers, sodas, shakes and grease. And any more than I can explain In n Out & the homing device it holds for me, this place just calls me.

Ok...someone needs to make me a care-package...FedEx does do same day delivery, right?

dbdubya said...

Forget about In-n-Out, Hi-Life is what a hamburger is all about, where you can get it your way, including hold the lettuce, hold the pickle. . .

Hi-Life is the best burger joint in the area. It's like the corner barbershop where you'll run into friends, neighbors, civic leaders, along with loads of High Schoolers and Middle Schoolers. While waiting for your bacon cheeseburger (my favorite), you can talk about what's happening in town, where you had dinner Saturday night, and who your ran into at the Fair Oaks Pharmacy.

Your photo captures it well, Laurie.

Yakpate said...

Just when I think your website has revealed everything there is to know about SouthPas... you hit me with Hi-Life! I especially like that neon "Open" sign... it is a wonderful symbol of how the hi life is always open to anyone who can take a risk or two!

Life is good. But, wait... ostrich burgers? You're kidding, right?

Trish said...

SoPas was THE Ostrich place (farms, races etc) for many, MANY years...now people thinks it's cool to serve Ostrich burgers.

Gimme a double, hold the cheese and 1/2 order of rings and a coke...I'll just hang out in a food coma all afternoon!

Anonymous said...

I'm reading the above comments in amazement. Really? I didn't even know Hi Life had been around very long. Occasionally my mother stops and picks up chef salad and brings it over on a visit. Unimpressive. Now I know better. Next time I'll save a little gas by not heading to the further Inn and Out.
Does anyone remember Taco Treat on Mission?

Jutilda said...

I guess I'm like Mom in that everything reminds me of a song. At first "night life" by Willie Nelson came to mind but then I realized The Counting Crows have a song "High Life."

Such a life
Such a life
Such a life

All my friends got flowers in their eyes
But I got none this season
All of last years blooms have gone and died
Time doesn't give a reason
Hey maybe you ask yourself sometimes what you need to be forgiven
Every thing that youve ever done wrong is the reason that I'm driven
Straight to tears

Waiting here for you
Wanting to tell you
How I get me ends and my beginings mixed up too
Just the way you do
I thought if I told you
You might want to stay for just another day or two

[speaking] its just like answers
That come in small packages
With gold on them

Waiting for the trains that just never come
Beginning to believe in
The disappearing nature of the people we have been
We have begun to change
Into the worst kind of people
So what kind of apologies?
No apologies
This apology doesn't describe
The way it feels to feel for you
Waiting here for you
Wanting to tell you
How I find myself slowly disappearing too
Just the way you do
I thought if I told you
You might want to help me to remain with you

I just wanna stay for a little while
I wanna stay for a little while
Oh, come on, come on, come on, come on
Cause there's a night life just falling down on me
I just feel like a change
But if the southern summer sea of flowers
Wont bloom without the rain
But oh this desert life, this high life
Here at the dying of the day
I wasn't made for the scene, baby
But I was made in this scene, baby
Its just my way
I don't wanna go home alone
I wanna come on home to you

Waiting here for you
Wanting to tell you
How I line my sky with all the silver I can use
Just the way you do
I thought if I told you
You might want to stay for just another day or two

[speaking] isnt that just like disappearing into the sum of yourself
And the person you are disappearing into
Its like one plus one equals nothing at all
One plus two equals nothing at all
One plus me equals nothing at all
One plus you equals one plus you equals you and you and you and you and
Nothing at all
Nothing at all

dbdubya said...

Ostrich tastes just like chicken.

Mister Earl said...

Judy: If I told you that the drummer from Counting Crows, Jim Bogios, is the son of Chris Bogios, trumpet player in the San Francisco Symphony, from whom I took trumpet lessons when I was in high school, would you believe me? Chris was a big influence on me.

Hi-Life: I haven't been there in many, many years although I go to the cleaners nearby. I never really liked the sauce they put on their burgers, but maybe I should give them another try. I used to get burritos there and sometimes pancakes. Hi-Life is very similar to Lucky Boy on Arroyo Parkway, although I don't think they're related. Haven't been to Lucky Boy in years either. Lately, I get the pastrami as Topps Jr. in Alhambra on Main not far from Fremont.

Mister Earl said...

Laurie: Thank you for the wonderful intro to my blog Mister Earl's Musings, http://misterearlmusing.blogspot.com/. Upcoming pieces will include a visit to the Lake Shrine on Sunset Boulevard near PCH and my battle and victory over the Pasadena Parking Authorities.

Jutilda said...

Mr. E- I totally believe you and think that is just too awesome.

Cafe Observer said...

I think I'm gonna cross over the border at night, 2nite, into the South of Pasa to get some of the Hi-Life! It's time 4 a return visit.

LA, if I mention your name will I get a discount!?

Double "D" said...

Hey Laurie,
Nice photo and great sentiment.

Takes me back to my small town in 1959 when
the first 15 cent burger place and 10 cent fries
opened. Just a local joint. We hadn't heard of
Mc Donalds yet. Hot Rods and cruising the gut.

Stéphane Kardos said...

I like the sign very much.

Cafe Observer said...

Well, just bak from the Hi-Life. I definitely didn't "get it" tonite. Feel letdown like a low-life afterwards.
I may put up my brief review by tomorrow.
0 for 2 since Sunday. Starting the new yr on a low note, food wise. But, the sign is nice.

Tash said...

Oh, CO - that's so sad. Maybe you weren't up for a really greasy burger tonight.
The sign is definitely nice & bright & colorful. I even like the font (is it a font on a sign?) for Hi-Life.
Laurie, I knew I was under your influence on night shots of buildings...but I completely missed the further influence of night-time library lurking. Hee-hee. This blogging stuff is more powerful that we realize!

dbdubya said...

I'm sorry to hear Hi-Life didn't work out for you, CO. It must be made clear, though, that Hi-Life is not fine dining. Far from it - it's your classic burger joint. Sometimes the burgers are over cooked. Sometimes they are greasy. That's part of the charm of a burger joint.

Another good one is just over the border in Alhambra on Alhambra just south of Huntington. Pharo's is similar to Hi-Life and eqaully good.

Cafe Observer said...

Tash & W, when I go to places like this, and order a root beer, taco, and burger - believe me I don't go there to find fine dining.

This, & pie n burger, on Sunday with the crowd waiting for a seat, well maybe it's too early in the year for some places to be up to speed. I'll try to put up a brief review 2morrow.

I have restaurant clients. They ask me what I think of whatever I'm eating from them. I tell them the truth, from this customers perspective: "bland" if it is, "overpriced" if it is, "too much/little of this/that" if it is, and so on.

Food is personal taste. So, this is just one persons opinion. I'll always come again, once every year or two.

USelaine said...

I don't remember these either, but it's interesting to read your always colorful impressions.

Laurie said...

Hey guys,

It's crazy-late -- and I'm half asleep. I'll catch up with you all tomorrow. Thanks for the great comments. Til tomorrow.

Joe Ryan said...

Hi Life was a A & W Rootbeer drive-thru way back on the sixties. In the seventies it was called Marietta's. It just had a outdoor walk up counter. The big round tables were situated under a carport type awning. It was an every day thing to go there after Jr. High and then High School. The guy at Marrietta's would pay us for Avocados so that became a neighborhood hunt. We would, of course, quickly convert the cash back into taco's.
Joe Ryan

Fabricio said...

Ahh Hi-Life... I haven't been there too many times but it was around the time I was having a great time (does that sound right?). I'll have to go there once again, soon...